Problem solvers

On June 7, Mary Jo and Jerry Gallion celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary, something that might not have been possible without the help of Schneck Medical Center.

Jerry Gallion was diagnosed with lung cancer more than three years ago and was enrolled in Schneck’s palliative care program shortly thereafter. Several months later, he was enrolled in the hospital’s hospice program. He passed away Sept. 9.

“There wasn’t a problem that Jerry and I had that Donna Butler wasn’t there for us,” said Mary Jo Gallion of palliative care nurse practitioner Donna Butler.

When a patient receives a chronic, serious illness diagnosis, but not a diagnosis that necessarily requires hospice, Schneck Medical Center has staff members who can step in and help out.

Palliative care, offered by the Seymour hospital since 2011, provides specialized help for patients with serious, long-term illnesses with a focus on treating the symptoms of illnesses such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart failure, kidney failure, advanced dementia and others and aids the patients and their families.

Palliative care differs from hospice in that patients who are referred to hospice have a terminal illness, and the focus is on the final months of the patient’s life.

Palliative care is always available to patients regardless of the outcome of their illness.

“We’re a layer of support for the patient and their families,” Butler said.

This support can come in many forms, whether that is helping the individual and the families to understand the illness better, adjusting and monitoring medication, spiritual support, mental support or legal support.

To meet these needs, the palliative care team has a nurse practitioner, home health nurse, doctors, social workers, a chaplain and a psychologist to help the patients and their families.

“They were just so personal with us. They cared about every avenue of our lives. … They were concerned about our mental state, finances, just us as humans,” Gallion said of the program.

“The love they showed Jerry and I was amazing.”

In many cases, patients with applicable conditions start receiving this support within 48 hours of a referral.

Butler said the care starts by identifying what the individual knows about their disease and tries to help them understand more about their disease and then help formulate goals for the patient and their families.

“We look at — are they looking for aggressive treatment or are they looking for more symptom support and trying to stay out of the hospital. We are always looking at how they want to live the rest of their lives,” Butler said.

Gallion said that the palliative care wasn’t just focused on the patient, her husband, but helpful and caring to her as well.

“There wasn’t a thing I asked that hospice and Donna in palliative care didn’t do,” Gallion said.

Butler said that even if patients have the same disease, they might not have the same symptoms or need the same type of support.

“We tailor our care based on their needs and goals, and those goals can change over time,” Butler said.

Gallion said her husband stayed home through palliative care and hospice.

“The hospital identified a need for more focused symptom management for patients with cancer,” Butler said.

The palliative care division expanded in 2012 from a two-day-per-week clinic to a full-time service that sees patients both in the hospital and on an outpatient basis.

The program has continued to expand, seeing 220 patients in 2014 with continuing increase in referrals.

When Jerry Gallion passed away at his home, he was surrounded by his family and was being taken care of by the palliative care and hospice staff.

“(Donna) called me to see if I was OK just the other day,” Gallion said. “I just don’t know what I would have done without them.”

Author photo
Aaron Piper is a photographer and reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at apiper@tribtown.com or 812-523-7057.